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US official: We believe that Al-Kazemi will be great and Iran’s threat to our forces remains great

US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker said that the threat of Iranian-backed factions to American forces in Iraq was still “significant”, about a week after US President Donald Trump warned of an attack by Iran or its proxies.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Schenker did not provide details of the threat, but said, “It is still big.”

Iranian-backed armed groups regularly bombed bases hosting American forces in Iraq as well as the area around the US embassy in Baghdad.

Three Katyusha rockets landed on Monday near an area in southern Iraq that includes workers for foreign oil companies, including American oil services company Halliburton. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

Last week, Trump said Iran or its proxies had planned an attack on US targets in Iraq and warned that they would pay a “very high price” but gave no details.

The hostility has been marred by US-Iranian relations since the Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed Iranian Shah in 1979 and Iran entered an era of religious rule.

While there was a breakthrough in the Iranian nuclear deal concluded in 2015, relations deteriorated with Trump’s decision nearly two years ago to abandon this multilateral agreement and re-impose US sanctions that paralyzed the Iranian economy.

Tensions worsened after a US airstrike on January 3 killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who founded the Shi’ite Hezbollah Brigades in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003.

Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States had proposed a “strategic dialogue” with Iraq in June, in an effort to improve strained bilateral ties.

Schenker emphasized that Baghdad needs to take steps if it is building the Washington partnership. He previously said in March that Washington was “deeply disappointed” with Iraq’s performance in protecting the US-led coalition forces.

“If the Iraqis value that relationship, they should take certain steps, and this includes providing protection for the coalition forces present in Iraq, if they want them to stay,” he said.

On Thursday, the President of Iraq assigned Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kazemi, the Intelligence Chief, to become the third person to be chosen to lead Iraq in ten weeks, as Iraq finds it difficult to form a new government after the collapse of the previous government under the weight of protests that have continued for months.

“If Al-Kazemi is an Iraqi nationalist committed to achieving sovereignty for Iraq and fighting corruption, it will be great for Iraq and we think it will be wonderful for our bilateral relationship,” Schenker said of Al-Kazemi’s choice. Source